Attracting Birds to the Backyard

Gardening, Home & Family
on November 19, 2000

Create a bird-friendly habitat in your yard, and you'll find that attracting a variety of birds also benefits your householdproviding a sense of wonder, a close-up look at nature, and lots of entertainment.

Attracting birds, no matter where you live, requires providing four basic elementsfood, water, shelter, and a place to raise their young, says Sue Wells, founder and executive director of the National Bird-Feeding Society.

For starters, know what different birds like to eat, she says. "The ingredients are listed on the package. If it has a lot of filler, cereals, and wheat, most birds will toss it on the ground," she says.

Many ground-feeding birds such as sparrows and towhees like millet (a grass grain); smaller birds such as finches and pine siskins like sunflower chips (sunflower seeds with the hulls removed).

Your choice of a bird feeder determines which species will be attracted, Wells adds. Smaller birds prefer a perch while larger birds tend to be ground feeders (an exception is cardinals, which love black sunflower seeds in a suspended feeder).

A shallow tray close to the ground will attract ground feeders such as cardinals and juncosthough squirrels may join the feast as well. Suet feeders, which contain high-energy food, draw woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, and nuthatches, particularly in the winter, though they can be used all year.

Birds also need fresh water every day to drink and to keep their feathers clean. A birdbath may help draw non-feeder birds. Bluebirds and swallows, for example, don't eat seed; their diet consists of insects, but all birds need water year round.

Birds also must have shelter and a place to raise families. What are commonly referred to as birdhouses are actually nest boxes, which attract nuthatches, woodpeckers, bluebirds, and chickadees, among others.

"Not all birds are cavity dwellers," Wells explains. So while nest boxes attract some species, others seek different accommodations, such as near the top of tall trees, within the branches of an evergreen, or in a low-growing bush.

Books and websites can guide you on what habitat attracts specific birds in your area. For information, visit the National Bird-Feeding Society's site at or write the National Bird-Feeding Society, P.O. Box 23, Northbrook, IL 60065-0023.